Asian American Leaders Endorse Prop. 227

Ballot initiative: Garden Grove, Westminster councilmen say dismantling of bilingual education is in kids' best interest.

GARDEN GROVE–Proponents of Proposition 227, which seeks to dismantle bilingual education statewide, welcomed endorsements Thursday from their latest supporters: a prominent group of local Asian American leaders, including Garden Grove Councilman Ho Chung and Westminster Councilman Tony Lam.

The initiative’s author and primary funder, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz, pointed to the public support as the strongest sign yet of the measure’s broad appeal in California’s ethnic and immigrant communities.

“I think our initiative has the potential to unify all the different ethnic groups around the notion that young children should be taught English as quickly as possible once they get into public schools,” Unz said.

Thursday’s press conference marked the first time that a group of Asian American leaders has publicly endorsed the June 2 ballot initiative, which seeks to overhaul the current bilingual program by giving students with limited English skills a year of intensive English lessons before moving them into regular classes. Few exceptions would be allowed. The controversial initiative has gained some very clear support among Latino and Asian voters.

According to the latest statewide poll, in March by the Field Poll, based in San Francisco, 70% of voters are in favor of the initiative, with Asian Americans solidly backing the measure by a 6-to-1 ratio–more than among whites or any other ethnic group. Of the 1,178 voters surveyed, 75% of Asians, 71% of whites, 63% of blacks and 61% of Latinos indicated that they would vote for the measure.

Yet even with the measure’s popular support, many politicians have shied away from an issue that has been painted by some as the logical race-based sequel to Propositions 187 and 209, which struck at illegal immigration and affirmative action.

The Asian American leaders who came to the press conference Thursday said that their decision stems not from politics but from personal experience with the U.S. educational system.

“The education issue cannot be distorted by ethnic sensibilities or political opportunism,” said Chung, who organized the press conference. “Children are our future. We have to educate them. We have to have one common language for everybody to be able to communicate. . . . That’s why my heart is with this issue.”

Chung, a Korean immigrant who arrived in the United States 30 years ago, said that his four children’s experience in the education system convinced him that teaching students in English as early as possible is key to their success.

“When I came, my first concern was how my daughter would pick up English,” he said. “But her teacher provided extra care in English . . . and she picked up English just as the other kids in her class.”

He was echoed by Westminster’s Lam, who came to America as a Vietnamese refugee with six children in 1975.

“It looks like a racial issue, but it’s not. Ultimately, this will benefit the children,” he said.

Lam supported his school district in 1996 when it was one of four Orange County districts that successfully petitioned the state to drop bilingual education altogether. Last month, the State Board of Education formally turned over to local school districts the responsibility for deciding how to handle bilingual education.

Education groups have lined up in heavy opposition to denounce what they say would be a dangerous experiment in language instruction. But initiative proponents say the decades-old bilingual education system has proved to be a failure.

Proposition 227 is “something that most affects California’s immigrants–Asian immigrants, Latino immigrants, European immigrants,” Unz said. “It’s especially important that our initiative has received strong support from California’s immigrant community.”

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